The Growing Concern: Rising Anxiety in Our Younger Generations
Anxiety is rising, and with that rise, we’re seeing a staggering increase in anxiety in the youngest generations. This blog aims to foster a better understanding by building language and knowledge around this concerning trend.
How Young is Too Young?
Early indications of anxiety can be connected to a more sensitive stress response system. Signs of this can be seen even as early as babies with colic. The stress response is also impacted by several factors, including their environment and attachment to their parents or caregivers.
It’s noticeable that some infants and toddlers have a predisposition toward anxiety. In these age groups, this presents as a child who is more easily upset, especially in a new environment or with unfamiliar people. These children often take longer to become comfortable in new places or social situations. It can also show up in their behavior as they are prone to being more cautious.
Generally, around the nine-month mark, children develop a normal level of anxiety about strangers. This is a typical developmental stage revolving around those they don’t see regularly and can also include changes in the appearance of caregivers. We’ve all seen cute videos where a baby doesn’t recognize Dad with his hat on or shaves his beard.
This healthy development safeguards our children; however, it should typically subside around three. When anxiety persists, it can start to impact their social development, learning, and even their life at home.
The Pandemic Connection
It’s important to remember that there are core elements like blueprints that babies start building before they are born. Stress hormones coursing through the body during pregnancy are known to impact both the mother and the unborn child.
Pregnancy is stressful; the natural instinct to begin worrying about our children begins before they are born; then there are the physical stressors, as well as environmental that happen during pregnancy, which includes dramatic changes to the life of the mother and the home.
Infants and children are like sponges in almost everything, including the emotional current that courses around them. They can read the room before they even understand what a room is.
The significant adults in their lives serve as a guidepost for them to understand those situations. That’s how they determine if something is safe or not. This process is called co-regulation, and like osmosis, children soak up the calm of their families or caregivers. This creates a basis for them to process feelings that otherwise would be uncomfortable or distressing.
The unfortunate reality is that in this post-pandemic world, adults are feeling more stress than ever. From financial struggles, balancing the new work-from-home normal, and fears they never had before, from feeling lonely or isolated to being afraid of getting sick.
As parents, our instinct is to protect our children; unfortunately, one way we tend to do that is counterproductive. Trying to keep these stress factors hidden or masking our emotional state can cause more stress within the home. Our brains are complicated and unique, and they tune into the unspoken current that courses through our homes or other environments.
Children are especially susceptible to this as they depend on the adults in their lives for emotional guidance. By not offering them an explanation, we leave them confused and wondering if they have done something wrong or if they are causing the problem. It’s far more beneficial to parents and children to offer them an age-appropriate explanation. This allows us to teach them about our feelings and their own.
One of the most important things that parents can learn is how to discuss things in a way that lowers the level of anxiety.
The social limitations that came along with the pandemic have caused some issues specifically for children. Because these kids couldn’t socialize normally, they may still be hesitant to try new things or be more susceptible to shyness.
Parents often don’t understand how to ensure their child is successful in these new situations with these unique roadblocks, which can unintentionally cause them to develop things like separation anxiety or more difficulty getting comfortable at school.
These children can also struggle with interpreting facial expressions due to using masks4r5t. The children born during and youngest during this pandemic had the unique experience of spending those critical developmental years in a more isolated home than ever before. The outside world and even something as simple as a trip to the store can feel overwhelming, causing them to become anxious.
Developmental Anxiety in Children or Something to be Concerned About?
There are a multitude of age-appropriate and developmentally normal stages children go through that cause anxiety. For instance, most kids have some stage where they’re afraid of the dark, a stage where they are exceptionally shy or fearful of strangers, or even seem to have a panic or meltdown upon being separated from their primary caregivers. These are all normal; however, because these children weren’t able to go out and socialize regularly, they may be developing more complex levels of anxiety.
As we know, the entire emotional current of the world is in an elevated state of anxiety. When you combine that with these other challenges, it’s essential to understand when to really be concerned about your child’s anxiety.
Anxiety becomes something to worry about when it is persistent, intense, and frequent and begins to impact the way a child interacts, their daily life, or how willing they are to engage in activities.
Is It Really a Stomach Ache?
Anxiety in children is often spotted through its physical manifestations. Commonly, things like headaches or stomach aches often result from an emotional problem they don’t quite understand. These kids also tend to have trouble sleeping, appetite changes, they can be irritable, or have regression problems. Kids with anxiety also often stall or come up with a list of reasons why they aren’t able to do something,
Skills Every Caregiver Needs to Help Anxious Children
Developing your calm is crucial. For a child to solve a problem, they need to feel connected, emotionally and physically safe, and calm.
Explaining to children early on in age-appropriate manners why our emotions make us feel the way they do can be game-changing. Understanding what is going on and everyone has those feelings eases their mind and makes even big emotions less difficult.
There isn’t a way to eliminate anxiety entirely, as it’s honestly just a part of our emotional system. Still, with the proper set of tools and a common language to talk about it, our children can learn to process those anxious moments healthily. Once we remove the fear through education, children can think through their emotions, and those thoughts will help them come up with solutions.
Our kids are always watching, even when we don’t know it. They’re constantly assessing their safety as a part of the natural brain process. Unfortunately, when they don’t understand anxiety, it can lead them into a cycle of negativity that can make them jump to the worst-case scenario. They begin to doubt themselves and wonder if they are the reason or somehow at fault for the emotions around them.
The goal is to have them catch your confidence in them and their ability to solve problems and work through those emotions.
Perpahs, one of the hardest lessons for parents is to accept those moments of distress that are safe for our children to experience. Being there for them rather than solving the problem is essential. No matter how much we want to save them from those pains or feelings, the true path to success is sitting with them through it and giving them the tools and language to navigate their emotional current successfully.
When to Ask for More Help for Your Child’s Anxiety?
It’s never wrong to ask for help, especially when it comes to your mental health or your child’s mental well-being. But it can be hard to know when the right time to reach out to professionals, so here are a few guidelines to help you decide if you’re ready to get more help for your child’s anxiety.
When you or your child are feeling overwhelmed and feel like what you are doing to help your child isn’t enough, it’s an excellent time to reach out for more support. Each child is different, and no one knows your children as well as you do. Some kids are more sensitive than others, which has nothing to do with your skills or understanding as a parent.
If they are struggling with their emotions, and the behaviors going on at home or at school become a common occurrence or become problematic, it’s time to start talking to the professionals. You can always start with your pediatrician, who can help you find the right help.
Even though we feel like we should, parents can’t possibly have all the answers. If you feel like you have more questions than answers, you aren’t alone, and that’s why there are professionals out there. Don’t forget this isn’t a failure on your part. It truly takes a village.
The intensity and persistence of your child’s behavior or emotional upheaval can be the best indicator of when you need to seek professional help.
What To Expect From Professional Help for Anxiety in Kids
It may not be long-term therapy that’s needed as often a few sessions can genuinely disrupt the cycle of anxiety. Therapy for children should always involve a partnership between the important adults or caregivers and the therapist and developing a common language and tools for the child.
It’s also essential when looking at who to work with that you find someone who has been trained or is focused on working with children. Your support as a parent or caregiver cannot be overstated. This is a learning journey that you will be joining your child on.
Never attempt to force a child into therapy; if they are resistant, you might need some guidance on how to approach it in a way that works, but don’t give up on looking for help! Learning about modeling regulation, what triggers anxiety, and problem-solving skills to deal with it are tools you and your child need to grow.
Great Books on Anxiety for Kids
- My Fantastic Elastic Brain by Joann Deak, Ph.D.
- The Little Brain People by Andrew Newman
- The Invisible Web Collection by Patrice Karst
- The Kissing Hand by Hey Warrior
- Hey Awesome and Dear You, You Love From Your Brain: A Book for Kids About the Brain by Karen Young
- The Invisible Riptide by Carron Montgomery
- A Kids Book About Nervous System Regulation by Dr. Joy Malik-Hasbrook
- My Magic Breath: Finding Calm Through Mindful Breathing by Nick Ortner and Alison Taylor
Games, Applications, and Products to Help Kids Grow their Calm
- Mindfulness Cards for Kids 10 Minutes a Day: Simple Exercises to Feel Calm, Focused and Happy by Maura Bradley
- Smooth Worry Stones
- Music: Best Day Yet and Better Together by Chris Doolittle
- Sleep Stories
- The Calm App
- Cosmic Kids Yoga App
Written by Carron Montgomery, LPC, RPT